Children cross a river on the mountain range of Zihuatanejo in Guerrero state September 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Tomas Bravo)
ACAPULCO, Mexico (AP) — The Mexican government searched for victims and continued assessing the damage Saturday from the one-two punch of storms Manuel and Ingrid, as a missing Federal Police helicopter working on the rescue was found crashed. All aboard died.
Meanwhile, in Mexico City, criticism mounted all week in editorials and public commentary that the government had made natural disasters worse because of poor planning, lack of a prevention strategy and corruption.
"Governments aren't responsible for the occurrence of severe weather, but they are for the prevention of the effects," wrote Mexico's nonprofit Center of Investigation for Development in an online editorial criticizing a federal program to improve infrastructure and relocate communities out of dangerous flood zones. "The National Water Program had good intentions but its execution was at best poor."
President Enrique Pena Nieto and Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre flew to the remote mountain coffee-growing area northwest of Acapulco near La Pintada, the scene of the single-greatest tragedy wreaked by the two storms.
Ingrid and Manuel simultaneously pounded both of Mexico's coasts last weekend, killing at least 101 people, not including the helicopter crash victims. Another 68 people remained missing in La Pintada, where soldiers continued digging after a landslide wiped out half of the town.
"There is little hope now that we can find anyone alive," Pena Nieto said after the flyover, adding that the landslide covered at least 40 houses.
In a meeting with hotel owners in Acapulco, Pena Nieto told the resort city that the reconstruction phase has begun, and that the government will help address the hoteliers' concerns, including about the main thoroughfare from Mexico City, the Highway of the Sun, which was closed by slides and damage in the storm, cutting off access for days.
Aguirre and other government officials publicly confirmed that corruption and political dealings allowed housing to be built in dangerous areas where permits should have been rejected.
"The responsibility falls on authorities," Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said in a press conference earlier in the week. "In some cases (the building) was in irregular zones, but they still gave the authorization."
Both federal and state administrations are new and cited cases in the past, though Osorio Chong said that going forward, he is sure that Aguirre and the mayor of Acapulco will not allow flooded-out victims to return to high-risk areas, which is not the case in many other states and municipalities.
The federal police helicopter, lost since Thursday, was located early Saturday morning. Government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez says the number of victims is still being determined and could be between three and five people.
It had been returning from La Pintada, where weather conditions initially hampered rescue efforts and flights into the area.
The Mexican government late Friday gave a list of damages from Ingrid and Manuel, which later gained hurricane force and rolled into the northern state of Sinaloa on Thursday morning.
The storms affected 24 of Mexico's 31 states and 371 municipalities, which are the equivalent of counties. More than 58,000 people were evacuated, with 43,000 taken to shelters. Nearly 1,000 donation centers have been set up around the country, with nearly 700 tons of aid arriving so far to the state of Guerrero, by far the hardest-hit state. Nearly 800,000 people lost power, though the Federal Electricity Commission said 94 percent of service had been restored as of Saturday morning.
Seventy-two key highways were damaged, including main arteries that left Acapulco isolated for days, as thousands of tourists awaited airlifts out of the inundated resort city.
The highway reopened Friday, albeit with many detours skirting stretches damaged by flooding and landslides. As of Saturday, all of the stranded tourists had been able to leave Acapulco.
The investigations center, known as CIDAC for its initials in Spanish, said Mexico had not been hit by two simultaneous storms since 1958.
The editorial said that while rescue efforts and aid are indeed humanitarian, they also provide good images for opportunistic politicians.
Prevention "like that in developed countries, designed to avoid the negative impact of natural events on people, doesn't seem to sell advertising or create grateful constituents," read the editorial.
Associated Press writer Katherine Corcoran reported from Mexico City.